Churton – Stunning results from Biodynamic Viticulture in Marlborough, New Zealand

With the vintage in New Zealand drawing closer, Sam Weaver at Churton in Marlborough reported in correspondence to me, “The vineyard is looking great (see picture), we had a very good fruit set which was then followed by a much wetter, earlier summer than normal.

This has led to very healthy looking vines and vineyards. Very good fruit set and potentially very good bunch size in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. We’ve just finished our first round of crop thinning so will be on target with good but controlled yields. For us this means 40hl/ha for Pinot and about 55hl/ha for Sauvignon Blanc.”

Actually, it was the picture that he sent that caught my attention most, always inspiring to see a healthy vineyard with crops growing between the vines and nature at its best. A microbiologist by training Sam is right in to organics and biodynamic viticulture and, well, it shows in the vineyard.

They are making stunning wines at Churton, really way above the norm in Marlborough, which as we know is relatively dominated by big players and whilst the quality level in general is high, Churton raises the bar considerably with their small production, artisanal wines.

Weaver’s note also prompted me to recount when I was in New Zealand last February for the Pinot Noir Celebration in Wellington, where I dined with a couple of serious local palates, Brett Newell and Paul Pretty, at Boulcott Street Bistrot, one of Capital cities best restaurants, www.boulcottstreetbistro.co.nz

Needless to say, they wheeled out some very good Kiwi Pinot’s including a totally awesome (apologies for the colloquial vernacular) magnum of Pegasus Bay 2003. However, I was completely stumped by a blind-taste offering from Pretty, who declared teasingly, that this was the best Pinot Noir in all New Zealand.

Upon tasting, I was inclined to agree, based on the amazing, creamy, layered-caressing texture of the wine, and incredible intensity of these plush layers. It was so rich and dense with a perfume the was completely hedonistic that I had immediately placed it in Central Otago. But alas, it was Churton ‘The Abyss’ 2008, and as brand new as it was, an absolute drink!

When I spoke to Sam Weaver on this (I recall at some dodgy back-street bar that night, having a few cleansing Ales) he was pretty chipper about the wine. More research reveals each block in his vineyards are vinified separately and to date, in the home vineyard, the Abyss block is the best performing. It sits 200m above sea level on a spectacular Northeast-facing ridge between the Waihopai and Omaka valleys of Marlborough’s Southern Valleys area of the Wairau plain.

This site allows for minimum water usage as the hills in this region are composed of clay like material called loess that has very high water holding capacity and according to Claude Bourguignon, the legendary French soil scientist, is not dissimilar in characteristics to Romanée Conti.

Not that Albert de Villaine at Romanee Conti would mind the comparison, but I reckon Weaver has most definitely hit upon grand cru territory here and the wine most certainly in the league of the upper echelons of Vosne-Romanee.

Interesting name though, Abyss, which I guess leans towards the dictionary meaning of ‘deep’ or ‘profound’, although it could equally mean ‘unfathomable’, as in Weaver is still trying to fathom how he made such an awesome wine.

Humour aside, Marlborough Pinot Noir sceptics and those (International) journalists with inanimate palates who are knocking New Zealand Pinot Noir as “Having a sameness about it, and lacking complexity” had best get their tonsils around this.

The other thing Churton “The Abyss” has in common with grand crus, is it is made in thimble quantities and one would assume completely impossible to get your hands on a bottle. And that would be correct in New Zealand, with even a hoarder like Paul Pretty grinning and seemingly happy he had managed to secure a case.

As it turns out, the Hong Kong agent for Churton, Altaya Wines, has some at a paltry price of HK$398 a bottle, which is about a fifth of what it is worth, well in the grand cru sense. Now don’t be greedy, just a bottle or two to share with friends, meanwhile grab at least a couple of cases of their standard 2008 pinot noir, brilliant value at HK$230 bottle. www.altayawines.com

Incidentally, Altaya Wines is my Wine Merchant of the Year – Asia region, follow the link for the Wandering Palate Must-Have Best of the Lunar Year.

For more information on Churton www.churtonwines.co.nz And, for importers in Asia looking for a benchmark Marlborough producer (and yes, they make excellent sauvignon blanc), I would be getting on to Sam Weaver real quick, sam@churton-wines.co.nz



By Curtis Marsh | Must Have Wines | Related to: , ,

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